NTSB Identification: LAX99LA291.
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Scheduled 14 CFR operation of UNITED AIRLINES, INC.
Accident occurred Thursday, September 02, 1999 in SANTA BARBARA, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 05/17/2001
Aircraft: Boeing 737-322, registration: N371UA
Injuries: 1 Serious,14 Minor,98 Uninjured.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The flight had just leveled off at flight level 240 with the autopilot still engaged. The seat belt sign had been off for about 5 minutes, and the cabin crew was in the process of preparing a beverage service. The airplane was crossing a VORTAC when the flight encountered turbulence the crew categorized as 'severe,' with a rapid right roll and pitch excursion. The captain disconnected the autopilot and attempted to counter the excursions with control inputs. As a result of the aircraft motions, 1 flight attendant sustained serious injuries, and another flight attendant and 13 passengers sustained minor injuries. The airplane sustained minor damage, limited primarily to ceiling tiles and seats. A review of the meteorological data showed no evidence of any atmospheric phenomena in the area. A simulation study comparing the known airplane response to control inputs versus the motion of the airplane as recorded on the DFDR data showed that the flight controls alone did not cause the recorded motion of the airplane. Radar data established that the flight was in trail of a MD-11 by 11.5 nmi and 97 seconds when the upset occurred. The MD-11 had climbed through the flight's cruise altitude and was 600 feet above the flight at the time of the encounter. Wake vortex studies by NASA have documented vortex descent rates between 270 and 440 feet per minute.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:

The flight's encounter with wake vortices from a preceding heavy aircraft.

Full narrative available

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